Seems the old adage that “the customer is always right” may be losing it’s appeal among retailers fed up with what is known in the industry as “demon shoppers.” The folks at Best Buy, for example, are trying to find ways to better deal with problem shoppers that eat into their profits by taking advantage of the system.
Like a customer who ties up a salesworker but never buys anything, or who buys only during big sales. Or one who files for a rebate, then returns the item.
“That would be directly equivalent to somebody going to an ATM and getting money out without putting any in,” Brad Anderson, Best Buy’s chief executive, said in a recent interview. “Those customers, they’re smart, and they’re costing us money.”
Anderson said Best Buy was tightening its rebate policies in the case of customers who abuse the privilege, but declined to say what else his company was doing to discourage its most costly customers.
Chris Miller sent this article to me as an illustration of one way that stores use data mining techniques to gather info on their customers—in this case on problem customers. I know some folks who don’t like Best Buy, but for me walking into that store is as close as I get to a religious experience. Their prices aren’t bad and their selection is good and they’re not totally against you taking advantage of a good deal. For example, they offer a number of gift cards aimed at different sorts of people including one for video gamers that includes a $5 off coupon on any video game purchased. You can effectively save five bucks on a new video game by buying one of these gift cards and then turning around and immediately applying it and the coupon to your video game purchase. This is apparently a common enough practice that when a friend of mine and I were in a local Best Buy recently so that he could buy a gift card for a niece’s birthday. He also decided to buy himself a video game while he was there and when we got to the counter the cashier asked if he wanted to use the gift card to buy the game so he could use the coupon. It took us a moment to figure out what she was asking.
I have to admit that the idea of Best Buy having that much of a clue as to who I am and how I shop is a little creepy, but at the same time I can’t fault them for collecting the data. The truth is I know some folks who use Best Buy as the ultimate rental shop. They’ll order an uber video card online for a cheap price, but can’t stand waiting for it to arrive in the mail so they’ll go to Best Buy, buy exactly the same card at full retail, use it until their other card arrives in a week or so and then return the card they bought from Best Buy before the 14-day-no-questions-asked-return-period is up. They’re not breaking any rules, but they are taking advantage of Best Buy’s generous return policy and that just feels wrong to me. I hadn’t even considered the idea of buying something with a rebate, filing for the rebate, and then returning the item.
So on the one hand it’s a classic example of how the big companies make use of the data they collect from you every time you buy something with plastic or fill out that lengthy return form when you bring something back to the store and shows the power to invade your privacy that data mining allows, but on the other hand when you consider what some folks are putting these stores through it’s kinda hard to blame them for taking this approach.